Z.E.I.T.G.E.I.S.T.: Comic Fans, Why Do You Hate Art?A column article, Z.E.I.T.G.E.I.S.T. by: Danny Djeljosevic
Ever since he confidently told his parents "I want to start reading comics" at age six, Danny Djeljosevic has not stopped thinking about sequential art in all its forms -- brightly colored capes, hamburger-eating teens, exploding schoolgirl bio-bots, decades-long indie narratives, intricate European eroticism, 8-bit adventures with punching and kicking and stuff you can only publish at Kinko's. He wants in on all of it -- reading comics, writing about comics and making them himself. He obsesses over every part of what goes into -- and comes out of -- a comic book.
And this is what his brain sounds like.
In the latest Singles Going Steady, I reviewed the latest issue of Captain Marvel, a book with art that people have complained about since issue one. Painter Dexter Soy's early issues utilized an awkward green-filtered palette that made things a bit hard to distinguish, a bit like the inside of an uncleaned aquarium. Then came Emma Rios (who is amazing) for a couple issues before Soy returned for a two-parter that was a bit more pleasing on the eyes. Not a strong start, but he was improving.
The current artist on the book as of Captain Marvel #9 is Filipe Andrade, an artist who's done some minor Marvel work in the form of an Onslaught series and a John Carter of Mars tie-in. He is also the reason for this column, because a lot of what I wrote was originally for my Singles review of Captain Marvel #10 until it threatened to overtake the thing, and thus has been expanded into a full-on column.
It seems like, according to future solicitations, Andrade will continue to illustrate Captain Marvel, much to the pleasure of me, Andy Khouri and seemingly few else -- least of all the guy from Graham Cracker Comics in the letters page of #10 who doesn't like Andrade or Emma Rios, so I know we can't be friends. Which is a shame, because in the year 2013 the idea of having a "house style" is basically a Tolkien-esque fantasy (and I don't just mean "boring") and having people who successfully illustrate superhero comics in a way that deviates from slick guys like Bryan Hitch or John Cassaday is the most exciting thing to me as far as looking at these things goes.
Rather than simply make fun of the haters, I'm going to make a quick case for the artist. For one thing Andrade's style is no accident -- he didn't shoot for Alan Davis and unintentionally crash into the land of "anime-influenced Skottie Young," which is kind of the element that many of the people decrying the art seem to lose sight of. It's a distinct, fully formed style, and if it's not your thing, that's fine -- I respect that. But to say it's bad and then say "Why didn't you keep the Dodsons around?" says more about the speaker than it does the quality of the art.
To me, Andrade's art is quite beautiful -- he conveys an amazing sense of motion with his expressive, flowy characters and has a knack for illustrating hair that reaches Ming Doyle levels of great. His anatomy is often incredibly stylized and exaggerated in ways anomalous to superhero comics (and it's not like superhero bodies are realistic to begin with), but more importantly all of his characters look different from one another and are constantly moving as he renders everything with an astonishing clarity. He's got some serious storytelling abilities that are going overlooked in light of his style being different from the rest of the genre. And paired with Jordie Bellaire's bright colors, it's a complete joy to look at.
The reason I feel the need to step up and defend this guy's art in the face of criticism is not to be a loudmouth or claim that my view is necessarily correct, but to deal with a myopic view of what art can be at least as it relates to the world of comic books because too often people interpret an encounter with something outside their comfort zone as being "bad." I know I did as much when I saw my first Werner Herzog film at age 14 (for the record, it was Nosferatu the Vampyre), and I try to be a bit more aware when something is beyond my comprehension for one reason or another or simply not meant to appeal to me. It's good to know yourself like that.
So, when I read paragraphs like the following, from a review of Captain Marvel #10 at ScienceFiction.com, I get emboldened to resurrect my column:
"It's not mainstream. It's not welcoming to casual readers. Hate to be superficial, but if they want to attract the widest audience, these books just need to be "pretty." It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea … and that's what this book needs to be. And as great as some of the prior artists have been, the same applies. The art on this title has never looked like normal, regular comics. It always looks borderline intimidating, if not downright confrontational."
And that's not to publicly lambast this one particular reviewer -- it's just that he's delivered the most comprehensive quote on the matter that wasn't on the CBR forums or anywhere so seedy. You don't want to base an entire column based on one thing a random yahoo said on a message board. I want to evaluate the ideas in that paragraph a little bit, because there are a few things to unpack.
That Andrade's art doesn't appeal to "casual readers" is a notion I honestly don't understand, and I've seen it echoed in a few places -- on message boards, on Tumblr and you can see it in the comments section of that Comics Alliance piece. How is the art of Filipe Andrade supposed to gain new readers if it doesn't look like "normal, regular comics"? I think it's an inherently dumb question because the average superhero comic has failed to gain new readers every month for the past 15 years or so; therefore making something that stands out from the pack should be the answer. Look at Hawkeye, which gained its enthusiastic cult following by being not only different from other superhero comics, but different from other Hawkeye comics. Maybe we need to stop catering to the average superhero crowd or the lapsed reader from the '90s and make sincere efforts to branch out and appeal to people who aren't indoctrinated?
Too often do I feel like the oft-claimed desire for "new readers" or "casual readers" imagines not a broad audience of people with different tastes and sensibilities, but people who are predisposed to liking bland superhero comic art to begin with. It's less about "Why aren't more people interested in reading comics?" and more "Why can't we get people to buy these comics?" The idea that the Andrade's art is "intimidating" and "downright confrontational" adds a depressingly cynical element to it, almost assuming that any potential readers are just slightly smarter than the future population in Idiocracy. Assuming the audience is made up of intellectually insecure morons is the best way to make bad entertainment. It's the mentality lurking behind most TV shows and movies.
Which is where the ar-teest in me really comes out -- why does Captain Marvel "need to be" for "everyone?" This, of course, boils down to the political perception of Captain Marvel, being the (sadly somewhat rare) female superhero book by a female writer. Look, I know the book feels like and likely is the major shot fired (at least in recent years) in a seemingly conscious initiative to bring female voices and female protagonists to the forefront of mainstream comics, where treatment of women -- both on the page and behind the scenes -- has been best described as "shitty." But that's a lot to put on one woman, much less a comic book. Why does Captain Marvel have to be The One? It should be a breakout hit, because it's a good read, but the idea that the future of women in comics depends on Captain Marvel's success resembles the same bullshit I was seeing when Red Tails was coming out and people were afraid that Hollywood was going to stop making movies about black people if it wasn't a smash -- that this was the one chance to do it. If the future of marginalized people in popular art is dependent on representative work then we honestly need to rethink society.
No one puts that burden on Grant Morrison -- how's he supposed to get new readers if he makes weird comics about Batman? Warren Ellis wrote a science fiction comic about fucking journalism and now they make movies about his stuff. I love Art Brut, but how is Eddie Argos going to get on the Top 40 if he can't sing? How are Los Campesinos! going to end up on holiday wrapping paper like One Direction if all their lyrics are so manic and morbid? How about YOU, Straight Male Comics Fans -- you'd probably have
hotter wives by now if you weren't into all those silly comic books and Transformers dolls. Why don't you try not being yourself and see how happy you are?
The fact of the matter is you can't realistically appeal to every demographic, nor can you account for taste. You have to create art the way you want to, and then your audience will find you. And maybe they're not the audience you expect -- maybe Filipe Andrade's kawaii energy or Emma Rios' ethereal wispiness could find an audience with readers currently preoccupied with shoujo manga, just to make an obvious connection. It's like death metal -- it's maybe not for you, but it's for somebody, hopefully somebody more open-minded and willing to try new things. And if there's one thing comics needs, it's more open-mindedness.
In conclusion, I wish the people who currently read comic books would stop and let everyone else take a shot at enjoying stuff because, for the most part, we're fucking terrible at it.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his Tumblr. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.